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Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
IN this Psalm David endeavours to possess himself with an holy admiration of the excellency of God’s knowledge, which is one of those divine perfections which we call attributes; all of which, though they are so many expressions of God condescending to our capacities, yet they are so exceeding glorious in themselves, that when we study to search them out, we must needs conclude, that they are objects much fitter for our admiration than our understanding. And one of the greatest of these is that which we are now about, to wit, God’s knowledge.
It is such a knowledge as sees and comprehends all things, but is comprehended by none; and the best of human knowledge is so far from equalling of it, that it is its greatest perfection to be able to express it. But when we have said all concerning it that we can, when we have spent our inventions and our words, we must set down and confess with David, that such knowledge is too wonderful for us; since our highest and most devout expressions of God rather testify our reverential desires of honouring him, than at all express his nature. Now the knowledge of God is chiefly wonderful, in respect of the extent and latitude of its object, as it takes in all things knowable. But here the prophet considers it 210 in a more restrained sense, as it is conversant about the secret and hidden things of man, and in this respect it is admirable. It was no small testimony of the divinity of our Saviour’s knowledge, that he knew what was in man, and needed not that any one should tell him, John ii. 25. Certainly none can find out those many windings and turnings, those strange intricacies of the mind, but the great artificer that framed them. From the 1st verse to the 17th we have many rare, full, and elegant expressions setting forth God’s accurate discernment of the most hidden contrivances of men; who, by one cast of his eye, looks through the whole scene of our lives. Whether rising up or lying down; waking or discoursing; thinking, yea, before we think; yet unborn and enclosed in the womb, he clearly sees and beholds us. The words that I have read unto you seem to be a metaphor, taken from soldiers surrounding the ways with an ambush, or placing scouts and spies in every corner, to discover the enemy in his march: thou compassest my path; thou hast, as it were, thy spies over me, wheresoever I go. By path is meant the outward actions and carriage of his ordinary conversation. By lying down is signified to us the private and close actions of his life; such as were attended only by darkness and solitude. In the 36th Psalm, verse 4, it is said of the wicked, that he deviseth mischief upon his bed, to denote, not only his perverse diligence, but also his secrecy in it: and God is said to hide his children in the secret of his pavilion. So that these places of rest and lying down are designed for secrecy and withdrawing. When a man retires into his chamber, he does, in a manner, for a while, shut 211himself out of the world. And that this is the fine sense of that expression of lying down, appears from the next words, Thou art acquainted with all my ways; where he collects in one word, what he had before said in two; or it may come in by way of inference and deduction from the former. As if he should say, Thou knowest what I do in my ordinary converse with men, and also how I behave myself when I am retired from them; therefore thou knowest all my actions, since a man’s actions may be reduced either to his public or private deportment. By the other expression of my ways is here meant the total of a man’s behaviour before God, whether in thoughts, words, or deeds, as is manifest by comparing this with other verses. In the 2d verse it is said, Thou understandest my thought afar off; and in the 4th verse it is said, There is not a word in my mouth, but thou knowest it altogether. And thus we see, that it was David’s scope to shew, that the most dark counsels of men are exposed to God’s view, and this he does by a distinct enumeration of all the particulars: Thou knowest my down-sitting and my uprising; thou understandest my thoughts; thou compassest my path and my lying down; there is not a word in my mouth, but thou knowest it; thou hast beset me before and behind; thou coverest me in my mother’s womb, and seest my substance being yet imperfect. He might have comprised all this in short, as in some such like expression; Lord, there is nothing in the life of man so concealed, but it is open and manifest to thy discernment. But he chose rather to dilate himself; because a distinct and particular mention of each several passage shews not only God’s bare knowledge, but also his observance 212 of these things. From hence therefore I shall gather this doctrinal observation, viz.
That God knows and takes strict and accurate notice of the most secret and retired passages of a man’s life.
In the prosecution of this doctrine I shall only prove it by some reasons, and afterwards make application, which I chiefly intend.
The reasons shall be of two sorts.
I. Such as prove that it is so, that God knows the most secret passages of our lives.
II. Such as shew whence it is, that he takes such notice of them.
The first reason proving that God does observe the secret passages of man’s life is, because he rules and governs them. Government is such a thing, as requires the highest and most perfect endowments of knowledge: the very wheel and hinge even of human government is intelligence. Can a man deprived of his sight manage a chariot through by and dark ways with a steady hand? Can God that carries the rule of all things in so constant and fixed a course, and yet not observe those things? Certainly he could not govern the world by his power, unless he governed his power by his knowledge. In Ezek. i. 18, God’s providence in the administration of all things here below is expressed by a wheel full of eyes, to signify God’s quicksighted knowledge in his government, and to express also, that those eyes were always in motion.
The Spirit of God attributes the like knowledge to Christ in his providential ruling the church; Zech. iii. 9, Upon one stone shall be seven eyes. By the stone is here meant Christ, to whom is ascribed perfect 213knowledge; by eyes is signified knowledge, and the number denotes perfection. Now there are three ways by which God governs the most secret projects of man, to all of which there is required a distinct knowledge.
1. He governs them by discovering of them. Now how is it possible for any one to make that known to another which he does not know himself. God prudently overrules most plots by a seasonable revealment of them, as the sun may be said to rule the day, as it is in Gen. i. 16, because of his universal sight, by which he discovers all things. In Matt. ii. 13, God disappointed Herod’s design of killing Christ, by making it known to Joseph: and God made ineffectual the treacherous intentions of the men of Keilah, in delivering David to Saul, 1 Sam. xxiii. 12, by discovering to David what they intended against him: wherefore it must needs follow, that since God makes hidden things open to men, they must of necessity be much more open and manifest to himself.
2. He governs the most secret intentions by preventing of them. For assuredly, if God should permit all the sin that men conceive in their thoughts to break forth into action, the world would not be able to continue, by reason of the overflowing sinfulness of men. God does therefore prevent and hinder it, and as it were stifles it in the very birth. Now to be able to prevent an evil, argues a clear knowledge of its approach. How many secret villainies, thought of and intended, and even ready for execution, have been turned aside, by God’s interposing providence! In Gen. xx. 6, God says of Abimelech, that he withheld him from sinning against him, and 214 suffered him not to touch Sarah. Adultery, in all likelihood, would have followed, had not God stepped in between the intentions and commission of it; and does not this argue God to be a strict discerner of our most private actions? Wisely to prevent, is an act of the highest prudence and experience: that watchman must have his eyes open, that discerns an enemy coining while he is yet afar off.
3. God governs the secret designs of men, by directing them to other ends than for which they were intended. Man may resolve, but God often secretly blows upon his counsels, and scatters all his resolutions. In vain do the Syrians take counsel to invade Judah, when God says, in Isaiah vii. 7, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. If God can turn the designs of men which way soever he pleases, he cannot but also see and observe them. To be able to divert a river in the midst of its most violent course from its native channel, shews more than ordinary skill. When a sinner in the full career of his intentions is rushing into sin, like a horse into the battle, then for God to wind him to his own purposes, it shews him to be of an infinite wisdom, and withal to have his eye continually fixed upon that man’s ways. How privately did Joseph’s brethren carry on their plot against him, with an evil and malicious intent; yet God observes their treachery; and what they intended for his misery, God turns to be a miraculous means of their own preservation, Gen. xlv. 5. And thus did Judas plot in secret with the rulers of the Jews to betray his Master; God sees his design, and withal orders the most cursed intention that ever was, to the best and most glorious end: most excellent therefore must the knowledge 215of God be, that describes the most hidden, sinful actions of men, so as to manage them contrary to their natural tendency: the sinner shoots the arrow, but God takes the aim, and directs it to his own marks. Let a man sin as secretly as he can, yet he shall not be able to avoid God’s knowledge, nor to contradict his will, I mean his efficacious and hidden will; which, by a secret influence, controls all actions, even the most wicked, to the glory of God. From hence we may be assured, that God is both privy to and observant of our most concealed iniquities, since he is able to see further into them, than the sinner himself that commits them. And thus much concerning the first reason, proving that God observes the most secret passages of our lives, because he governs them, and that both by discovering, by preventing, and by directing them to his own ends.
The second reason proving the same is, because he gives laws to regulate the most secret passages of our lives, and therefore he must needs know and observe them. It is absurd for any governor to impose laws upon men in respect of those actions which cannot come under his knowledge. Hereupon all human laws tend only to the regulation of the outward man, and proceeds no further. But God extends his law to the most secret behaviour of men, even to the thoughts. Hence our Saviour interprets the lust of the heart, and the first motions thereof to uncleanness, to be adultery, Matt. v. 28. Hence also the word, or law, of God, is said, in Heb. iv. 12, to be quick and powerful, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And in Heb. iii. 12, the Spirit of God commands them not to entertain an evil heart of unbelief, nor so much as in 216 their desires to depart from the living God. If God took no notice of secret unbelief, if he did not know or regard all the private excursions of the mind to sin, it were vain and fruitless to limit them by a law. But since he has set a law even to these also, since he does not only restrain our secret actions, but even our thoughts and desires, we may very well collect that all these are in his view, that he evidently beholds and searches them out, and that his knowledge is not shorter than his commands.
The third reason is, because he will judge the most secret passages of our lives, therefore they are manifest to him. Knowledge is so requisite to judgment, that our earthly judges cannot judge rightly in matters that they do not know: hence Job, to shew how uprightly he judged, said, that he searched out the cause that he knew not, Job xxix. 16, implying that it was impossible for him other wise to award a righteous sentence. Justice indeed is pictured blind, not because it is to be without the eye of knowledge, but the eye of partiality. Now shall not God, that is the judge of ah 1 the earth, do right? Shall he condemn and punish men for such sins as he knows not whether they have committed or not? Certain it is, that he judges men for secret sin; therefore it is also certain that he knows them. In Eccles. xi. 9, Solomon says of the voluptuous man, that for the ways of his heart, which are his secret and his hidden ways, God will bring him to judgment; and in Eccles. xii. 14 it is said, that God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil; and no wonder, since there is not so much as the least rising of the heart to sin but he views it; no circumstance 217so inconsiderable to our apprehensions, but he ponders it: he does, as it were, severely winnow every action, and discerns that which is good in it, from that which is vile and sinful. Now there are two seasons wherein God will judge men for their secret sins. First, in this life, wherein he often gives sinners a foretaste of what he intends to do in the future: and though he does reserve the whole weight of his judgment till after death, yet he frequently dispenses some strokes of it by way of earnest before. Because not only men’s desires, but also their belief, is chiefly satisfied by things present; wherefore God sometimes follows secret sins with present judgment. When Moses declared the law of God to Israel, and withal denounced punishments to the disobedient, he applies himself especially to those that were guilty of secret disobedience; and lest they should rid themselves of the fear of those punishments, by looking upon them as future and remote, he shews how dreadfully God intends to deal with such sinners even in this life: Deut. xxix. 18-21. Here we see sin was very secret, shut up in the private reasonings and debates of the mind; but God fetches the sinner out, and purges him, with present temporal judgment; for, as it appears from the foregoing chapter, the curses here mentioned were chiefly such as touched men in their life, their estate, and outward relations. Such is the irrational atheism of most men, that although they have no thought, and consequently no fears, of hell, yet they accordingly dread temporal affliction. Like a child, that does not so much fear the loss of his life, as the loss of his apple. Let such men know, that it is very probable that by their secret sins they 218 may bring down the curse of God upon themselves in this world; and although their hell be completed hereafter, they may begin it here. Whence is it that some men are so strangely blasted in their parts and preferment, but from some hidden sin, that rots and destroys all: whence is it that many large estates do undiscernedly shrivel away and come to nothing, but perhaps from the guilt of some secret extortion, perjury, or the like, that lies fretting and eating out the very bowels of them. I do not speak this universally, nor affirm that this is always the cause of these miseries, but it is to be feared that it is very often so.
2. The second season wherein God judges the secret passages of our sins is at the day of judgment. In respect of which our Saviour says, that there is nothing hid but shall be made manifest, Luke xii. 2. A thief or a murderer may carry on his villainy undisclosed for many years, but the day of his trial will discover all: in Daniel vii. 10, it is said, the judgment was set, and the books were opened. By the books is meant the knowledge of God, in which all things are kept as durably and distinctly as if they were registered in a book. Then God will open this book of his knowledge, and read all those hidden passages that are writ in it in the audience of all the world. And this is one reason why he permits so many heinous impieties to be concealed here on earth, because he intends to dignify that day with the revealment of them.
And thus much concerning the first sort of reasons, which prove that it is so, that God knows and observes the secret passages of our lives. I proceed now to the second sort of reasons, that prove whence 219it is that God thus knows them. Now these proofs are very different: for the first proves, that God knows these things by way of connection, that is, by those acts of God which are always enjoined with knowledge, as his governing, giving laws, and judging: but now these latter reasons prove, that he observes all hidden things from that which is the cause of such observations.
1. And the first reason shall be drawn from God’s omniscience, or his power of knowing all things: from whence it follows, that nothing can be hid from him; and this is that light which no man can keep off, any more than he can in the opening hinder the day from shining upon him; it is a light shining in every dark place: as it has no obscurity itself, so it permits nothing else to lie obscure: and that it is universal and infinite, appears from this, because otherwise it would not bear a full proportion to the rest of God’s perfections. Now in respect of this, it is said in Prov. xv. 3, The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good: and in 2 Chron. xvi. 9, The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth: and in Job xxviii. 24, it is said of God, that he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heavens. How vain therefore is the thought of these men that attempt sin upon confidence of privacy, that do, as it were, dig deep to hide their counsel from the Lord. O that such would but read and consider that text in Heb. iv. 13, All things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Now to behold a thing as naked, implies the greatest evidence and discovery. It is also said, that secret things belong unto the Lord, 220 Deut. xxix. 29; which, as also the forementioned places, are only so many expressions of God’s infinitely comprehensive knowledge: from hence therefore we may clearly deduce what we do intend. If the perfection of God’s nature engages him to know all things, he must also actually know all things; and if he actually discerns all things, he must also discern all secret things; and if he is acquainted with all secrets, he must also behold and observe the secret passages of our lives, which of all other secret things are the most considerable.
2. The second reason may be drawn from God’s intimate presence to the nature and being of all things, from whence is also inferred his knowledge of them: for since there is no real distinction between the being and knowledge of God, but only in the manner of our conceptions, it follows, that where he is present in respect of his being, he must be also present in respect of his knowledge. But now the being of God is diffused through the whole and every part of the universe, as the soul insinuates itself into all the members of the body: not that God is thus present to all the world by way of identity with it, (as some profane philosophers have affirmed, who, in a literal sense, may be said to have known no God but the world;) but he is present with it by way of nearness and inward proximity to it. Without which, the creature could not derive continual influence from him for the upholding of its being, but must of necessity fall back into its first nothing. From this universal presence of God the scripture often proves the universality of his knowledge: in the twenty-third of Jeremiah, ver. 24, God thus argues himself, Can any hide himself in secret places that I should not see 221him? saith the Lord. Why? whence is it so impossible to avoid God’s sight? That which follows proves it; Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord. God’s filling heaven and earth, that is, his being present everywhere, proves also, that there can be no place hidden from him, but that he like wise sees everywhere. David also, in this hundred and thirty-ninth Psalm, where the text is, proves God’s infinite discernment of all things by the same argument. He had said, that God compassed his paths, and knows all his ways: but what was the reason that convinced him of this? He sets it down in the seventh and eighth verses, Whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. He that always stands by us must needs see and observe what we do: wherefore, if the sinner would act his sin out of God’s knowledge, let him first endeavour to go out of his presence; which he is no more able to do, than to go out of his own being. And thus much concerning the reasons proving the point; I now proceed to application.
If it is thus certain that God takes strict notice of the most secret passages of our lives, both because he overrules them, and prescribes laws to them, and judges them; and also because that his omniscience and omnipotence, then, in the first place, it may afford, [Sic in ed. 1744.]
1. A use of conviction, to convince all presumptuous sinners of the atheism of their hearts. I know the proof of this point, that God sees in secret, may seem to have been superfluous; since the general vogue of the world is ready, not only to meet, but even to prevent us in their acknowledgment of God’s 222 all-seeing eye: but if we look through men’s professions, and trace their lives, we shall find that they do not really believe any such thing. For were we fully convinced that the just God, that declares himself a most certain punisher of sin, did also most certainly know sin, we should not dare to commit it presumptuously before him. Experience, the strong est argument, shews us the contrary in the ordinary passages of our lives. A very child will forbear to offend not only before his father, but before such an one from whom his father may come to know it. The reason is, because all persuasions, if real, do naturally engage a man to actions suitable to those persuasions. As for example, had you a thorough persuasion upon your heart that God saw you when you were attempting any vile sin, the very thought of this would beget such a reverence and a dread upon your spirits, as you could not venture to commit, if to gain a world: for we see such thoughts cast an awe upon us, even in our deportment before men. Hence the fool, that is, the wicked man, is said to say in his heart, that there is no God, because he does act in his life as if he thought there was none. In like manner the presuming sinner may be said to deny that God sees and observes all his actions, be cause he behaves himself so, as if he were really persuaded that God did not observe them: therefore, whosoever thou art that art a presumptuous offender, setting aside all thy spurious words, when thou dost resolve upon any sin, thou dost either believe that God sees thee, or that he does not. To believe he does not, is to deny him to be God: to believe he sees thee, and yet to commit the sin, is to affront him to his face, to bid open defiance to him, and to 223cast that unwisely contempt upon him, that the most audacious and impudent offender dares not offer to his earthly magistrate: wherefore, if from thy heart thou dost acknowledge God’s all-seeing eye, cease from sin; otherwise, to any reasonable judgment thou dost really deny it, and in spite of all thy fair speeches art truly an atheist. For deeds always over balance words, and downright practice speaks the mind more plainly than the fairest profession.
Second use. It speaks terror to all secret sinners: God sees and observes them in all their secrecies; he spies out all their private haunts and their sly recourses to their beloved sin. Let such men consider how unwilling they would be that men should know of their concealed villainies, of what they act by themselves: surely they would rather forfeit their lives, and all that was near unto them, than their secret sins should be divulged; and then let them know that God sees them, and that it was better that they were known to all the world that they so fear, than to him. For he sees more filth in them, than one of the most discerning and carping judgment can find in the faults of his adversary; and he does more detest them, than the most holy and up right man can do the most grossest and notorious sin. Let them also consider, that the greatest ground of all their sins, which is secrecy, is by God’s all-seeing eye taken away. For assuredly the confidence of concealment is the greatest inducement for an hypocrite to commit the vilest sins. Psalm lxiv. 5, They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they say, Who shall see them? And thus confidence of secrecy gave them confidence in sin. But certainly it is an ill argument, because sinners 224 do not see God, to conclude therefore, that God does not see them; like the foolish bird hiding his head in a hole, thinks himself secure from the view of the fowler, because the fowler is not in his view. O how miserably are such sinners deceived in the vain prop of a false confidence! in Psalm xc. 8, Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. As God lifts up the light of his countenance upon the godly, to refresh and comfort them, so he does also upon secret sinners, to discover and to amaze them. It is said of the secret adulterers, in Job xxiv. 16, 17, They know not the light: for the morning is to them as the shadow of death. How then will they bear the light of God’s countenance, which will cast the shadow of death in their faces in a much more dreadful manner? In the same verse it is said, If one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death: but the all-seeing God knows them: O the fear, the shame, and confusion that is in the mind of a discovered sinner! And let such an unclean person know, that he had better act his impurity in the sight of his reverend parents, and of a severe magistrate, than under the observing eye of a just and holy God, before whom secret sins are not secret, but open and revealed. Yet such as are secret to men we may rank into two sorts, both of which God perfectly knows.
1. Such as are wholly transacted in the mind, without the service and ministration of the body; and these are the sins of our thoughts and desires, which are locked up from the knowledge of men or angels. No court of human judicature pretends to judge or punish the thoughts and intentions: they 225are in a peculiar manner reserved for the jurisdiction of the court of Heaven, which alone is able to examine and find them out. Now there is no act of man so quick as his thoughts; which in this resembles the angelical nature, that they are swift and invisible. Let the gross acting sinner act as fast as he can, yet the thinking sinner will have the start and advantage of him, and sin an hundred thoughts before he shall perform one sinful action. O the infinite multitudes of impure thoughts in a polluted mind, like swarms of flies upon a carcass, continually sucking and drawing in corruption. Now God has a more than ordinary respect to men’s thoughts; hence God cries out of his people, Jer. iv. 4, How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? The greatest wickedness, and that which is the most odious to God, is the wickedness of the heart; and this consists in pollution of the thoughts and desires. Nay, God does so much hate the sinfulness of these, that sometimes he expresses the whole work of conversion by the renovation and change of the thoughts: in Isaiah Iv. 7, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him. But was it God’s intention only to restrain these, and in the mean time to give him liberty in his sinful actions? No: but the forsaking of one implies the leaving of the other, as the greater duty includes the less. He that will not so much as indulge himself in an evil thought, will much less venture upon the gross commission of sin. Now God often times judges of the state and condition of a man from the purity or impurity of his thoughts; and that upon these reasons.226
1. Because the sin of the thoughts and desires is most spiritual, and consequently most opposite to the nature of God: spiritual wickedness is properly contrary to spiritual holiness, and it is that by virtue whereof Satan has strongest possession of the soul, as being that wherein most men resemble him, who being destitute of a body is not capable of corporal, fleshly sins: hence, in Ephes. vi. 12, we have the vileness of his nature expressed by spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Now, as there is nothing almost so evident in itself, as by the advantage of contraries, so we may see how odious spiritual sin is to God, in that spiritual duty is so acceptable. God does not so much command us to serve him, as to serve him in spirit and in truth. In all religious duties the voice of God is, Son, give me thy heart. To find a sacrifice without an heart, was always accounted a thing prodigious. To bring our bodies to church, and leave our thoughts at home; this is most detestable before God. To lift up our eyes to heaven in prayer, and yet to fix our desires upon the earth, O this his soul hates. As God drew a resemblance of himself upon the whole man, so, in a more lively manner, he imprinted it on the mind. Now one sinful thought is able to slur this image of God upon the soul: one corrupt desire is able to divest the soul of all its native innocence and purity. This certainly must be true, that that which tends to corrupt the best and most worthy part of man, must needs be the worst and greatest corruption. But all, even the heathens, will acknowledge, that a man’s mind is his better part: and scripture and experience tell us, that evil thoughts and desires defile the mind: therefore we should endeavour, in the 227first place, the sanctification and regulation of these. Moral philosophy tells us, that external actions are not morally good or evil of themselves, but by participation of the good and evil that is in the acts of the will, by which they are commanded. We are not angry with the hand that strikes us, but with the evil intention that guided the hand: nor with the tongue that curses us, but with the vile disposition of the mind that bid it curse. God commanded David to cut off the sin of Saul, in 2 Sam. xxi. 1, and he commanded Jehu to slay the posterity of Ahab. The outward action is here the same: whence then was David’s action pleasing to God, and Jehu’s reputed murder, Hosea i. 4, but from the difference of their thoughts and intentions? David did it with an intent to obey God, and Jehu with a design of private revenge. It is most just therefore that God should judge of the whole man by his thoughts and desires, since from these are the issues of life and death.
2. He judges a man by these, because his actions and practice may be overruled, but thoughts and desires are the natural and genuine offspring of the soul. Experience tells us, that we have not that command and dominion over our thoughts that we have over our actions; they admit neither of order nor limitation, but are the continual, incessant bubbling up of sin out of the mind: for we may observe, that those acts that may immediately result from the faculty, without the interceding command of the will, are scarcely controlled by it. How will the unruly imaginations of a vain fancy range and wander, in spite of all the dictates and commands of reason. There is nothing more easy or usual than 228 for one to counterfeit his behaviour. A man may cause, that nothing but love and kindness shall appear in his actions, when in his thoughts he breathes cruelty and murder. The hypocrite, in the outward part of the most holy duty, may make as fine and specious a shew as the best, when there is nothing but sin and rottenness in his heart; Ezekiel xxxiii. 31, They sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. Here we see they had nothing so frequent in their words and outward services as the worship of God, and nothing so remote from their desires. But now in the thoughts there is no dissimulation: what a man is in these, that he is in truth and reality: the soul is in its thoughts, as in its retiring room, laying aside the garb and dress in which it appeared upon the stage of the world. Nay, although a man had a full rule over his thoughts, yet they must needs be free from dissimulations, as not being capable of the causes of it. That which makes men dissemble, is a fear of and a desire to please the eyes of men; which we know cannot reach to the thoughts. It is therefore clear, that sincerity does only reside, and consequently is only to be found in these: hence we may observe, that Christ, in all his replies to the Jews and the pharisees, did rather answer the in ward reasonings and thoughts of their mind, than the questions they did propose. In Ezek. xiv. 3, 4, we have men addressing themselves to God in the greatest shew of salvation that might be; yet he professes that he will not answer them according to those pretences, but according to the idols they had 229set up in their hearts. A man, by reason of his concernments and interest in the world, what for fear of this punishment, and hope of that preferment, will cast himself into such a mould, as he shall be really nothing less than what he does appear to be; his words, actions, and outward carriage shall bear no correspondence with his intentions. The covetous man, in his mind, can lay heap upon heap; and what he cannot gain by his endeavours, he will make up by his thoughts. The ambitious man will think over all the applauses and greatness of the world, and in the closet of his mind erect to himself the idol of his own excellencies, and fall down and worship it. The revengeful person, though fear will not let him act his revenge, yet in his thoughts he will stab and trample upon his brother. The lascivious wretch, though shame will not let him execute his sin, yet he will feed his corrupt fancy with unclean imaginations. In all these passages men, being secure from the view of others, behave themselves according to the free genius and inclination of their nature. But God knows all these silent workings: he knows them, and abhors them: and that he does know them, he will make it appear at that day, when he shall also make others know them, and when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed. O what black stories will be told at the day of judgment of men’s thoughts!
2. The second sort of secret sins are such as are not only transacted in the mind, but also by the body, yet are covered and kept close from the view of men. Such was David’s sin in the matter of Uriah, 2 Sam. xii. 12. God says to him, Thou 230 didst this thing secretly. Such was Cain’s murder of his brother. Such was the theft of Achan: there were no standers by, conscious to it; it was not done before spectators. Now certainly a sinner should thus argue; If I cannot hide my secret sinful thoughts and desires from God, how much less shall I be able to conceal my actions, be they ever so private. When Satan, secrecy, and opportunity, all of them great tempters, shall tempt you to sin, consider that you have still this company with you, a conscience that will accuse you, and a God that will judge you. And is there any man so irrational as to commit a robbery in the sight of his accuser? to do a felony before his judge? What reason will not suffer us to do before men, shall not reason and religion keep us from committing before God? Thou mayest wrong and defraud thy neighbour in secret, Habakkuk ii. 11, but the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall accuse thee. Thou mayest kill and murder, and none behold thee, but the voice of thy brother’s blood shall cry to God from the ground that receives it, Gen. iv. 10. I may here speak to the secret sinner in the words of an holy author; Let him but find some corner where God may not see him, and then let him sin as he pleases. The adulterer, in the forementioned place of Job, is said to wait for the twilight: but here we find in this Psalm, that the darkness and light are both alike to God. The drunkard will presume to be drunk in the night; 1 Thess. v. 7. but here we read, that the darkness hideth not from God, but the night shineth as the day. No sins can be covered, but such as God himself shall be pleased to cover within the righteousness of his own son: he that 231can see in secret, and when thou shuttest thy door behold thee praying in thy closet, can as easily see thee when thou art sinning there; and as for private duty he will reward, so for secret sin he will punish thee openly, either in this world or in another. And therefore it were good for such kind of sinners to consider, that while their door is thus shut, the gates of hell stand open.
3. As it speaks terror to all secret sinners, so it speaks no less comfort to all sincere-hearted Christians. The same sunrising and break of day that terrifies the robber, is a comfort to the honest traveller. Thou that art sincere, God sees that sincerity in thee that others cannot discern; yea, he often sees more sincerity in thy heart, than thou canst discern thyself. This may uphold the drooping spirits of a disconsolate soul, when the black mouths of men, steeled with ignorance and prejudice, shall be opened in hard speeches against him. For indeed nowadays, when a man cannot find fault with his brother’s outward conversation, which only he can behold, he will censure him in respect of spirituals, which no man can discern, any more than I can know what is in a man’s mind by the colour of his clothes. Such men speak as if God did not only make them partake of his mercies, but also of his prerogative. And when it should be their work to resemble God in holiness, they arrogantly pretend to be like him in omniscience. How severely, though blindly, do they judge of men’s hearts! Such a man is profane; another is carnal, and a mere moralist; another proud, and as to the bent and frame of his spirit, a contemner of religion. But here the sincere soul may comfort itself, when with one eye it can reflect upon 232 its own integrity, and with the other upon God’s infinite, infallible knowledge, and say, indeed, Men charge me thus and thus, as false-hearted and an hypocrite, but my God knows otherwise. This, I say, may set thee above the calumnies of unreasonable men, and make thee ride upon the necks of thy accusers. And as Daniel, by trusting in his God, was secure from the mouths of the lions; so thou, by acting faith upon, and drawing comfort from God’s omniscience, mayest defy the more cruel mouths of thy reproachers. When a man is accused of treason to his prince, and knows that his prince is fully assured of his innocence, he will laugh all such accusations to scorn. It is thus with God and a sincere heart: in the midst of all slanders, he will own thee for innocent; as he did Job, when his friends, with much specious piety, charged him with hypocrisy. Wherefore commit thy way to the all-seeing God, to that God that is acquainted with all thy ways; that sees thy goings out and thy comings in, and continually goes in and out before thee, and will one day testify and set his seal to thy integrity. Comfort thyself in the consideration of his omni science, from whence it is, that God judgeth not as man judgeth, but judges righteous judgment. And hold fast thy integrity, that lies secret in the heart, whose praise is of God, and not of man.233
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